Oklahoma coaches hope a position change for Marcus Stripling will bring out the best in him

After two years as a defensive end, Marcus Stripling feels confident about his move to outside linebacker and the sense of freedom it allows him to play with
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Marcus Stripling is adjusting to a minor change of scenery this spring.

The 6-foot-3, 241-pound junior changed positions this offseason, now lining up at rush linebacker.

After playing defensive end his first two years on campus, he said Tuesday in a Zoom press conference with local media members that the move was a welcome one.

“I was very excited about the move,” he said. “I’m just like more of a speed rusher and kind of have a power rush too.”

He said head coach Lincoln Riley had a hand in the move, with Riley thinking the outside linebacker position would best accentuate his abilities.

Marcus Stripling

Marcus Stripling

“Lincoln just thought I have way, a lot of ability, and I can solve my ability better at (rush linebacker). I just feel like the move has been amazing,” Stripling said. “I get to learn more and I’m seeing the whole field from the standup position, and it’s really a lot of react and attack football.”

Defensive end and outside linebackers coach Jamar Cain said he was happy with Stripling’s progress when he spoke to the media last Monday.

“He's learning, he's learning it, and the adjustment is going well,” Cain said. “So far he actually had a really good practice, I was flying through practice just before I came in here, but he's actually getting better every single day.”

In his first two seasons as a defensive end, Stripling recorded 14 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 quarterback sacks for the Sooners.

Marcus Stripling vs. Texas Longhorns

Marcus Stripling

The adjustment hasn’t been too complicated, Stripling said, as the main goal of the defense is to always be attacking, regardless of if he’s playing defensive end or rush linebacker.

“The major difference between end and rush is the rush drops (in pass coverage). But I wouldn’t say I had to majorly work on my drops. It’s just like, knowing where I have to be and when I have to be,” he said. “It just made me more of a student of the game. Put it like that. At end I really didn’t have to think that much, move a lot, do a lot. But rush just opened my eyes and made me more of a student of the game and just exceed and be better.”

The change will also help Stripling focus more on football, as he’s had a bit of trouble packing on weight to play defensive end in his first two years on campus. He was listed at 247 when he first arrived, then checked in at 250 last year. On the current spring roster, he's listed at 241.

“I can put on weight, but in season I do lose a lot of weight so that was a big factor. The weight, it’s been an issue since I got here and we’ve been trying to get it handled. It’s a work in progress every day,” he said.

And while Stripling worked on his nutrition and the proper calorie intake, the weight still would fall right off.

He’ll still have to work to maintain his physical levels during the season, but the lessened focus on packing on pounds will be a slight relief.

“Not having to focus on forcing myself to eat or forcing myself to gain, it gives me a freer mind,” he said. “I can just go home and study strictly on football and strictly on getting better. But also, I still do focus on gaining weight, too, because it's still a problem. It's not like it's going anywhere. But it just helped me cope with the problem moving to rush.”

While he never really got up to 260 pounds like the coaching staff had envisioned for Stripling, having a Plan B is a great asset of the Alex Grinch defense, Cain said.

“That's the beauty of Grinch’s defense. We're not going to put you there, we're going to adjust the defense to you,” Cain said. “So we moved Marcus over, and the only true difference is he's going to be dropping in coverages a little bit more. He'll have a little more freedom on his his pass rush stuff. But I think that the move was actually really good.”

As Stripling gets acclimated to life as an outside linebacker, he said he’s been paying close attention to a breakout star of last year’s defense, Nik Bonitto.

“I’ve just seen Nik everyday improve his craft,” he said. “I’ve seen him work and I just see him really add that 'it' factor, add all the extra, little things he came back to get done and accomplish, he’s really doing them. He’s a tremendous leader. I see his get-off and his speed off the ball. It’s just amazing. He’s just out there every day trying to hone his craft and make it better.”

Cain believes Stripling can emulate Bonitto too, as he has the athletic profile to mimic Bonitto’s production off the edge.

“We think Marcus is a 4.5 kid, you know, and he can run he's athletic,” he said. “So he's in that mold of Nik.”

For now, Stripling is just focused on improving and reaching his full potential, and the rest will work itself out.

“I’m just really trying to improve all aspects of my game,” he said. “Pass rush, physicality, speed to the ball, just getting off blocks, defusing blocks, being able to read coverage, read pullers, just trying to play faster and take out a lot of the thinking and get to do what I know I can do and use all my abilities as best as possible.”